Saturday, February 24, 2018

Potholes on the Road to Peace

Published in the Fiji Times as "Understanding peace" 
in Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan
Wednesday, January 04, 2017

As we begin a new year, apart from the usual “happy” and “prosperous”, you may have also been wished a “peaceful” New Year. 

How can we ensure that 2017 is peaceful and peace-filled for our families, communities and society? 

Perhaps the first step is to really understand what peace is: 

Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies often refers to the distinction between ‘negative peace’ and ‘positive peace’. Negative peace refers to the absence of violence. When, for example, a ceasefire is enacted, a negative peace will ensue. It is negative because something undesirable stopped happening (e.g. the violence stopped, the oppression ended). Positive peace is filled with positive content such as restoration of relationships, the creation of social systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict.

Peace does not mean the total absence of any conflict. It means the absence of violence in all forms and the unfolding of conflict in a constructive way.

Peace therefore exists where people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively – with respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.

The challenge with broadening the path of peace for a few into a road of peace for many, is no different from turning a track for foot traffic into a road for vehicles.

The challenge includes the need to deal with the ground on which the road is being built and the obstacles that lie in the path. There is sometimes the desire to bulldoze through a forest in order to make the road as straight as possible, rather than go around the forest which are the lungs of the earth. There is the integrity of materials used and of the preparation, care process followed in the building of the road to withstand not only the natural stress of daily traffic, but the stress from the natural environment, from heavy rain to shifting soil. 

Likewise the path to a peaceful home and a peaceful society must keep in mind the different types of violence that exist. 

Johan Galtung’s article “Violence, Peace and Peace Research,” written in 1969, covers some fundamental concepts that are still relevant today, even though sometimes with different kinds of modifications. Galtung lists six dimensions of violence explained through sets of contrasts.

Galtung’s six dimensions of violence:

1. Physical and Psychological violence: 
Galtung is careful to include psychological violence, (violence not as the direct result of one of more persons acting on one or more persons) as equal to physical violence. Psychological violence may take the form of simulating torture which is the treat of actual violence. 

Galtung also notes that inequality of a form of psychological violence, such as “when access to transportation is very unevenly distributed”. Limiting mobility, as well as limiting resources to a small class, is indirect violence. While not physical, it is something that can be prevented and therefore is a form of violence because it is something being withheld. For example, if a country is rich in resources but the wealth does not circulate beyond a select few; with most of the nation living well below the poverty line. That essential resources are withheld when there is enough revenues to extend the wealth the general population, is a form of violence.

2. Positive vs. Negative approach to influence: 
The dominant group not only has the power to withdraw what it desires to punish behavior but also to increase what it desires to promote behavior. As such manipulation can take place on a subtle level. 

Capitalism rewards individuals who prioritize the desired goals and processes of the dominant system, arguably, at the risk of more inclusive, human rights oriented and more productive functions of government. Any system that perpetuates itself through rewarding participants and limits productive growth is a form of violence.

3. Whether or not there is an object that is hurt: 
A person does not have to be hit or hurt for violence to be occurring. Testing nuclear arms, or just the existence of nuclear arms, maintains the threat of violence and preserves the dominant group’s power. 

North Korea’s testing of weapons and maintaining their threats to South Korea and the West promote and maintain a system of violence. This is a type of psychological violence as there does not need to be actual physical harm for implement this form of violence.  

Also, the destruction of things held meaningful to the things owners without any damage to the owners is also violence. For example, burning down a library may not result in the loss of life but has irreparable short term and long term negative impacts.

4. Whether or not there is a subject (person) who acts: 
There does not have to be an individual acting out for there to be violence. Direct or personal violence is when there is an actor immediately implementing that act of violence. Indirect or structural violence is when there is not a single actor implementing that act of violence. 

Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals.  Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible (in contrast to behavioural violence).  I also hold that behavioral violence and structural violence can intertwine — some of the easiest examples of structural violence involve police, military, or other state powers committing violent acts; of course one can blame the individual soldier, but the factors that lead to a soldier killing a civilian are far more complex than that explanation would imply.  

Dr. Paul Farmer, an American anthropologist and physician who is best known for his humanitarian work providing suitable health care to rural and under-resourced areas in developing countries, beginning in Haiti, describes structural violence as: 

“one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.”

5. Intended vs. Unintended violence: 
Galtung also differentiates between violence that is intended and that which is unintended. In most cultures guilt is decided according to violence committed with intent rather than violence with as a consequence of actions. A times, structural violence is a consequence of actions. 

Systems of domination which preserve oppression do so in ways that are not always carried out in direct ways. When we focus on individual acts with individual actors and fail to critique the foundational settings that are unjust we fail to recognize structural violence as well as unintended violence.

6. Manifest vs. Latent violence: 
Manifest violence is that which is observable whether or not it is recognized as is the case for some forms of structural violence. Latent violence “is something which is not there, yet might easily come about”.

Latent violence is the underlying potential for violence which may lead to manifest violence. That which limits a society or group from realized potential is a form of violence. Latent violence occurs when actual realization decreases. Latent violence is the conditions that exist that make manifest violence more likely to occur.

Obstacles, conditions and situations that we encounter on the path and road to a peaceful Fiji. Some are obvious and some a very subtle. Some are individual and some social, political and economic. Yet they all are potholes on the road to peace. And some are just too big to drive around. We will have to fill them in to ensure others may travel safely.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

(Material for this article was sourced from, , ,, , )

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